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I recently had the chance to speak with Crowed Daemon Studios, cre­ators of the game FREAK, to talk about the chal­lenges of game devel­op­ment, the envi­ron­ment in the games indus­try and per­ils of being a sen­tient autis­tic zom­bie in 2D.

First things first, intro­duce your­selves and tell us a lit­tle about your involve­ment with the devel­op­ment of FREAK.

Nadia: Hi I’m Nadia and I’m in charge of tak­ing every­thing I’m told to do and mak­ing it pretty, AKA the art direc­tor.

Jenn: I’m Jenn and I sort of have a lot of tiny roles. I typ­i­cally say I’m a pro­ducer but I’m also PR direc­tor, a junior artist, co-writer and sound artist.

Chris: My name is Chris, I’m the lead designer, level designer, and head writer for FREAK.

How did Crowned Daemon come together as a team? Did you all wake up one day and were like “Hey I know! Let’s make games!”

Chris: We’d all been work­ing together on var­i­ous projects for about five years, with some of us work­ing together for up to seven or twelve years. We’re all very close-knit, so when I did decide to make games, the choice for who to work with was obvi­ous.

What parts of the game are you most proud of so far?

 I’m in love with the cut sce­nes, mostly. Nadia and I put a lot of time and effort into those and I think it really pays off. Honestly though, I really like how every­thing is com­ing along.

Nadia: I also really like the cutsce­nes because they [sic] roto­scope style is fairly unique for games and not some­thing you see uti­lized often. It also fits very well with the 80s psy­che­delic theme that the music is in.

Chris: Even in its early stages, I love the work that our artists have put into the cin­e­mat­ics and game assets. Trying to fig­ure out how best to make the art work in the style of game we’re attempt­ing has been chal­leng­ing but I’m still impressed with every­thing that they’ve man­aged so far. The cin­e­mat­ics espe­cially are incred­i­ble, espe­cially after the amount of time it takes to make them, to finally see the end result makes it all worth it.

The amount of work that’s gone into the cod­ing of the game is also quite some­thing. Our pro­gram­mers have taken on a lot of work to get our game ready for our demo, and given the win­dow of time we needed to have things done in they’ve per­formed extremely well. There’s a lot of com­pli­cated sys­tems in our game.

Your game [FREAK] has an autis­tic sen­tient zom­bie as a lead char­ac­ter, was this a delib­er­ate choice from day one or did the char­ac­ter evolve dur­ing devel­op­ment?

Chris: It was a choice from day one. There aren’t a lot of autis­tic char­ac­ters in games, and only one of them (to my aware­ness) is male, and none of them are main char­ac­ters. Making Tinker a part-zombie was also a very con­scious deci­sion on our part, as it plays a part in sub­vert­ing expec­ta­tions of autis­tic peo­ple in media (espe­cially games media) hav­ing oth­er­worldly pow­ers.

Recently there was some con­tro­versy and seem­ing hys­te­ria about com­ments made by indus­try vet­eran Ken Levine about autis­tic char­ac­ters. Do you worry about the poten­tial back­lash that try­ing to cre­ate cer­tain types of char­ac­ter can bring?

Jenn: It’s def­i­nitely a con­cern that peo­ple will not like speci­fic char­ac­ters or that there might be back­lash because of the way they are por­trayed, but in the end we’re very seri­ous about cre­at­ing real­is­tic and inter­est­ing char­ac­ters who com­pli­ment the game. We could choose to ago­nize about reac­tions to them and water down our game as a result but in the end that would be a dis­ser­vice to peo­ple who play the game and peo­ple who are like those char­ac­ters in real­ity.

Chris: I would say that I’m wary, not wor­ried. So far the reac­tion has been pos­i­tive. Sure there are some peo­ple who have snick­ered at the idea or raised an eye­brow, but this is not dis­cour­ag­ing to us at all. Those reac­tions are why we felt this game had to be made with the char­ac­ters it has.  Autism is widely mis­rep­re­sented and mis­un­der­stood in the media, and the only way that’s going to change is if peo­ple step for­ward and start speak­ing for them­selves from their own expe­ri­ences. This also applies to other char­ac­ters and cre­ators from all vari­ety of back­grounds.

As to Ken Levine specif­i­cally, I per­son­ally think the con­tro­versy sur­round­ing his remarks was overblown and his remarks twisted to reflect an opin­ion he doesn’t actu­ally hold. If peo­ple in gam­ing want to have a gen­uine con­ver­sa­tion or under­stand­ing about peo­ple with autism, the first thing they’re going to have to do is acknowl­edge that not all peo­ple with autism are nec­es­sar­ily good peo­ple, just like not all peo­ple of any group are inher­ently good. Autistic peo­ple, like any other, have flaws, moral fail­ings, and make bad choices. Denying the abil­ity of a group of peo­ple to do bad makes any good they do mean­ing­less. I have the dis­tinct feel­ing this is going to be a topic that comes up often in dis­cus­sion of our game lead­ing into its release as well as after­wards, but that is where we stand on the issue.

Do you think it is eas­ier or harder to make the kind of game you want to than it was five years ago?

Chris: Undeniably eas­ier. While we’ve only been in the busi­ness of mak­ing games for a short time, all the things we rely on to make, mar­ket, and dis­trib­ute our game have been recent phe­nom­e­non. It has never been eas­ier to make a game, and with­out this ease I don’t think we could have got­ten Freak even this far.

How use­ful have you found indus­try bod­ies like the IGDA in facil­i­tat­ing devel­op­ment? Would you like to see a bet­ter sup­port net­work for devel­op­ers?

Chris: I’ve had a mixed expe­ri­ence with the IGDA. On one hand, I attended one of their mee­tups once and met a lot of nice gamedev peo­ple in my area, which was nice and helped me make a lot of indus­try con­tacts (and a signed game poster, which was cool). On the other hand the IGDA endorsed a block bot which listed me as a harasser and still has yet to ade­quately apol­o­gize to myself and other devel­op­ers who have been put onto this list.

CDVNO6xUUAAGHs_Looking at FREAK, the game has some rather strik­ing ani­mated sequences. How chal­leng­ing has achiev­ing these been as a small stu­dio been?

Nadia: Not gonna lie, it has been my biggest chal­lenge as an artist so far. It’s a labour of love, but the labour is always there. I am the only one draw­ing the frames, which leads to long days and few breaks to make sure I can deliver qual­ity as quickly as pos­si­ble. That’s the real­ity of ani­ma­tion though, but when you’re work­ing on such a small team it can get pretty over­whelm­ing. I think peo­ple see ani­ma­tion and for­get that, espe­cially in 2d, there are peo­ple respon­si­ble for ever line, colour and effect tak­ing place. For exam­ple, I am cur­rently draw­ing a scene at 24fps. That is 24 draw­ings for every sec­ond of footage you see. It makes for some pretty sweet move­ment, but damn is it tax­ing.

Jenn: The ani­mated sequences are def­i­nitely time con­sum­ing. For those who aren’t famil­iar with roto­scop­ing, it’s basi­cally when you draw over video cap­tured footage, which is what gives it that hyper real­is­tic move­ment that I think a lot of peo­ple are impressed by. Even this descrip­tion is a lit­tle mis­lead­ing though, because when Nadia draws the frames she isn’t just “trac­ing”, she’s trans­lat­ing the images into the style used for the video game as well.

Do you think Zombies have been over­done as a game enemy or will they always be fun to smush?

Chris: I don’t think peo­ple will ever get sick of zom­bies as a whole so long as the games are well-designed and do enough to stand out from the crowd, just like any other game genre. I think the over­sat­u­ra­tion peo­ple describe revolv­ing around zom­bie media is the fact that zom­bie media of all kinds has always been cheap to pro­duce in movies and TV, and the same holds true for games. With cheap­ness to pro­duce comes a lot of stuff that is poor qual­ity, which can lead to a lot of peo­ple being turned away from the genre as a whole just like a lot of peo­ple prob­a­bly wouldn’t want to jump into a pool with a lot of leaves and scum on the top. I think there will always be peo­ple will­ing to take that plunge though, and those who do jump in and find trea­sure at the bot­tom will surely bring it up for oth­ers to see.

Jenn: I can see why peo­ple say that zom­bies are over­done but hon­estly they’re always going to be a fun enemy. They’re pretty unique in that you can have var­ied sto­ries about how they came about and how they act. Zombie games aren’t nec­es­sar­ily all going to be the same just because zom­bies are involved.

Nadia: Saying zom­bies are over­done is like say­ing humans are over­done. There is always going to be a mar­ket for zom­bies, even in a sat­u­rated mar­ket. Zombies are fun because, at least in my opin­ion, hor­ror and the occult are fun. Unlike intel­li­gent ene­mies zom­bies have no side. They aren’t fight­ing for a cause; they don’t care who you are or what you’ve done. And in some cases don’t even have a rea­son for want­ing to tear your face off. That is freak­ing ter­ri­fy­ing. It’s beyond even ani­mal­is­tic needs and desire. That is what makes them so fun, because your pri­mary goal around them is sim­ply to sur­vive.

Is Crowned Daemon a full time job or does the team have day-jobs to pay the bills?

Chris: We cur­rently have a mix of both, there are some indi­vid­u­als who need to be work­ing full time on the game for us to move for­ward at all and every­one else is part time. It’s our hope that in the future we’ll be able to have every­one work­ing full time for the com­pany.

There has been mixed opin­ion about [Valve’s] Greenlight since its incep­tion. How do you feel about the process of get­ting a game on steam?

Chris: I think that the value the green­light sys­tem offers to indie devel­op­ers can­not be over­stated. I think Steam has done a good job of try­ing to stop devel­op­ers from manip­u­lat­ing the sys­tem, such as when groups of devel­op­ers were get­ting together and agree­ing to up-vote each other’s games en masse. That said, it does seem like to make the most of Greenlight you need to have a fan­base going in, which defeats the pur­pose of Greenlight being used as a tool to dis­cover games. My guess is this is because of Greenlight’s rep­u­ta­tion of hav­ing lots of low-quality games on dis­play, which dis­cour­ages some peo­ple from both­er­ing to peruse Greenlight unless the game goes viral, which isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a guar­an­tee of the game’s qual­i­ties or mer­its.

I know Steam has been plan­ning on over­haul­ing the sys­tem, so I don’t know if they intend to try to fix these prob­lems in the future. In the mean­time I still believe that Greenlight, despite its faults, is invalu­able to devel­op­ers and shouldn’t be writ­ten off entirely.

Last of all, where can we find each of you and where can we find info on your projects? Shill away. 

Jenn: Our com­pany web­site is in the process of being com­pletely over­hauled right now, but can still be accessed at crowneddaemonstudios.net . We always love more fol­low­ers on Facebook and Twitter. Lastly, if you feel like you might like to play our game in the future and you like what you see, please help us get green­lit on Steam Greenlight here.

If you want to chat with me per­son­ally, you can reach me at @RobotLamia on twit­ter, although I should warn you that I’m actu­ally pretty shy out­side of busi­ness sit­u­a­tions! If you want to talk busi­ness, you can reach me directly at “jenn@crowneddaemonstudios.net .”

Chris: If you want to talk to me, my twit­ter is @Daemonpro if you want to do small talk. For more seri­ous con­ver­sa­tions you’d be best suited reach­ing out to me at chris@crowneddaemonstudios.net so that we’re not lim­ited to 140 char­ac­ters.

Nadia: If you want to chat you can reach out to me on twit­ter @MissTaxidermy. To see my art I have my port­fo­lio here and my tum­blr.

A big thanks to the folks at Crowned Daemon for this enlight­en­ing inter­view. Shown below is an early alpha game­play trailer for FREAK, cur­rently on Greenlight


(Disclosure: Members of SuperNerdLand do fol­low and com­mu­ni­cate with some of Crowned Daemon Studios team mem­bers over social media, but nei­ther the author nor SuperNerdLand are finan­cially or pro­fes­sion­ally affil­i­ated with Crowned Daemon stu­dios. This inter­view was sought out of inter­est in the project and respect for the team.) 

https://supernerdland.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/header-int.pnghttps://supernerdland.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/header-int-150x150.pngJohn SweeneyInterviewsCrowned Daemon Studios,InterviewsI recently had the chance to speak with Crowed Daemon Studios, cre­ators of the game FREAK, to talk about the chal­lenges of game devel­op­ment, the envi­ron­ment in the games indus­try and per­ils of being a sen­tient autis­tic zom­bie in 2D. First things first, intro­duce your­selves and tell us a lit­tle about your…
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John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in engi­neer­ing. He writes long-form edi­to­rial con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games media and inter­net cul­ture. He also does the occa­sional video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a weekly column about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our inter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­porter of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agenda dri­ven media and sus­pi­cious of unac­cou­table author­ity but always hope­ful for change.